- Last Updated: 12:55 PM, May 27, 2012
- Posted: 2:52 AM, May 27, 2012
The arena will return to the hard hats now, a fitting, if premature, hand-off. Surely the workers who will occupy Madison Square Garden for the next few months gladly would have ceded the next few weeks to the Rangers, with whom they share a sweaty bond, hockey players who sport blue shirts and blue collars and wear both proudly.
In a fair sporting world there would be another hockey game tonight at Madison Square Garden, a Game 7 that undoubtedly would have riveted the city, sent it screeching to a standstill in the way only big, timeless events can immobilize the big town. In a fair sporting world, the Rangers and the Devils would have squeezed 60 more minutes — and maybe a few on top of that — out of the Eastern Conference finals.
If sports relied on the sweat of a brow and the size of a heart, they would drop a puck at the Garden at around 8:15 tonight, and there would be 18,200 people filling the old rink with one more burst of energy and life and hope. And if things had broken properly, maybe we would have gotten three or four more nights just like it. And the next phase of the Garden facelift would have had to wait another week or two.
Instead, the helmets and the hockey sticks get locked away.
And the hard hats and hammers take their place.
“For me, from day one of the season through to the end of the playoffs here, the Rangers were the hardest working team in the NHL,” Devils coach Pete DeBoer said in the aftermath of Game 6, when his team pounced on the Rangers’ crease less than a minute into overtime, culminating with Adam Henrique shoving the puck past the goal line 63 seconds into the spare session.
“And they gave us everything we could handle.”
Maybe that’s why the voices of so many Rangers fans you heard from Friday night, and yesterday afternoon, were filled with pride, every bit as much as pessimism, why so many fans of this team wish training camp could open tomorrow morning, so excited are they about what may lie ahead for this franchise.
And they should feel that way. It was easy, as this season progressed, as the Rangers blossomed into the best team in the conference across 82 games, to forget they hadn’t just made positive strides this year but monumental leaps. This is a team that won one playoff game last year, that barely eked into the playoffs.
In some ways, this season began in the final hours of last season, when the Rangers erased a 3-0 deficit against the Bruins, the eventual Cup winners, losing Ryan Callahan in the process when the captain slid himself in front of a slap shot and got a broken ankle for his trouble. The pain of that moment became the gain of a splendid season, of a No. 1 seed and three elimination game victories and two titanic Game 7 efforts.
“I won’t accept, you know, ‘You won a couple of rounds. You got into the third round.’ That isn’t good enough,” Rangers coach John Tortorella said late Friday night. “We still have to find a way to win another round and get there. I don’t want this organization to sit still. We have to change our mindset to continue trying to be the best and learn that there’s a lot more hockey to play after you go through a couple.”
The Rangers will be back, and Tortorella is a prominent reason, the right coach at the right time for a team on the come. They will be back because they are too young and talented, and because they will make a play for Zach Parise or some other pricey good fit over the summer. And they will come back because we’ve seen this all before.
We saw what happened to the Devils 18 years ago, a team learning how to win, just tasting success before the Rangers broke their hearts. The Devils built off the ’94 heartbreak, won three Cups across the next eight years and are still humming. The blueprint is right there. It couldn’t be more obvious.
The hard hats take the Garden over now. But it’s the Rangers’ building. Hit the fast forward button. Let’s get it to next year. Now, please.